- Excommunication is the action of a church to deny spiritual benefits to a member, often including its sacramental offices such as the Lord's SupPER and last rites. The excommunicated person is also barred from participation in the church's fellowship (disfellowshipping). When church membership was universal, excommunication carried much more serious consequences than it does in religiously pluralistic societies.Excommunication usually requires a judicial process, which varies widely from church to church, to determine whether the person has broken a church law or refused to participate in the judicial process itself. The act of excommunication aims to limit the person's negative influence among the membership and tries to elicit repentance, which will allow the ultimate restoration of communion.Excommunication played an important role in transforming Protestantism from an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church into a separate movement consisting of different denominations. The pope excommunicated Martin Luther in 1521, and the weapon was used against other reformers and their supporters.Among the Radical Reformers, who were attempting to build a small disciplined fellowship without state support, excommunication (often called shunning or banning) became a major means of maintaining order and calling straying members back to the fold. Excommunication was imposed at the family level and often led to the alienation of a member from a believing spouse.Further reading:■ Francis Edward Hyland, Excommunication: Its Nature, Historical Development and Effects (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1928)■ Jung-Sook Lee, Excommunication and Restoration in Calvin's Geneva, 1555-1556 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Theological Seminary, Ph. D. diss., 1997)■ The Order of Excommunication and Public Repentance (Church of Scotland, 1569; rpt., Dallas, Tex: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1993)■ Ulrich Stadler, "Cherished Instructions on Sin, Excommunication, and the Community of Goods (c. 1537)," in George H. Williams, ed., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers: Documents Illustrative of the Radical Reformation. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), 274-84■ Elizabeth Vodola, Excommunication in the Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.